Words probably can't do justice to what we witnessed on Saturday.
You couldn't even make up some of the stuff we saw.
Alas, I will try to make some sense of the madness.
This is college football and as much as we wish that it wasn't so, any loss hurts, and it hurts bad.
There was a lot not to be happy about, but despite some major mental errors the team showed glimpses of why they were expected to be very good in 2011.
Of course that talent really doesn't mean much when you lose, but it's foolish to write this team off after one weekend.
More after the jump.
No one feels good about this loss. With the step up the Irish we're supposed to take in 2011, this is a somewhat devastating loss. Still, I'm not about to jump off of a cliff and throw up my arms and claim the season is over either.
We weren't the only team to lose to a good team this weekend, and there's plenty of season left to come back and judge this game a few months from now.
Normally, I would roll out a unit-by-unit grade of Notre Dame in the post-game recap, but I don't think it's really possible to do that for what was such a wacky and wild game.
Therefore, this will be more free flowing.
- Biggest thing for me: This hurts because we know we're better and should not have lost this game.
This is what made the Weis regime so infuriating, and no I don't think we're still that type of Weis-led team---although it had that kind of feel where nothing was going right for the team and they should have been able to eliminate some mistakes and beat a lesser opponent.
It's a different feeling of helplessness when another team perceived to have less talent, comes in and throws you around at home. Give USF credit for playing a solid game, not turning the ball over, and playing within themselves, but they did not throw the Irish around.
If the tables were turned and Notre Dame was outgained by twice as many yards and still won, I would think we'd be awfully fortunate to win the game by three points.
It still frustrating to lose games when you think you're better, and the majority of the game seemed to prove that except for the scoreboard. Again, we've been down this road so many times with Weis that many are willing to cry, "same old Notre Dame."
The Irish shot themselves in the foot far too many times and they paid the price. That doesn't mean we aren't that good or that we didn't live up to the hype. It was one game.
All things considered, Notre Dame looked pretty good in some areas and South Florida has the potential to be a pretty good team this year. Let's see what this games looks like at the end of the year.
- Our defense looked fairly stout.
Although we'll probably have to dial back the notion that the defense will be dominant.
There is something to say about the short fields USF had to work with, and a general conservative offense the Bulls went to after getting out to a quick lead, but nevertheless, giving up only 254 total yards is pretty impressive.
That never happened with all those frustrating losses in the past---it always seemed like the defense folded and gave up tons of yards and points. It seemed like that because they always did, but at least this is apparently changing under Kelly.
The offense now appears to be the side of the ball with more problems, and trust me, we're much better off than the opposite being true.
The defense gave up one touchdown, that's a positive.
USF was 2 for 14 on third down.
The defense only surrendered 3.5 yards per play, the second best mark during the Brian Kelly era.
B.J. Daniels played smart and led his team well, and before the game we knew if he did that the USF offense could be very dangerous. However, the Bulls offense really didn't do a whole lot and the Irish defense did all it could to keep the game from being a huge blowout early.
Part of the reason why Daniels played competently was because the Irish didn't get a ton of pressure up front, which was a pretty big disappointment. The defense also gave up a few too many short-to-medium passes and didn't force a single turnover.
Still, plenty of positives to take away from the defense as I think they will continue to get better and a Daniels-led USF offense was not an easy opponent to open the season against.
- Special teams were a complete mess.
I don't want to pile on Riddick because he had one of the worst days we've ever seen from a starter and expected difference maker, but he does not look comfortable returning punts. In college football you need something out of the return game, and this continues to be something that holds Notre Dame back.
Ben Turk continues to be pretty bad. Call him inconsistent, he will boom one once in a while, but he's not a good punter. His biggest problem is that he not only kicks the ball 30 yards, but they are usually line drives right to the return man.
Ruffer missed a chip shot too. USF missed one of their four field goal attempts so I can't complain too much. Ruffer is still a really good kicker, but the gloss has worn off now a little bit and so has OMG BEST KICKER EVER!!
- How much blame should Brian Kelly take?
I'm not even sure. A lot of people will say Notre Dame came into the game unprepared, took USF too lightly, etc. but sometimes the breaks just don't go your way. Not many people talk about it, but the 1988 national title team turned the ball over a lot, but was able to overcome those mistakes.
Notre Dame couldn't do that on Saturday, and I'm not sure how much to read into it after one crazy game.
For all we know Riddick could never fumble a punt again and turns into one of the surest handed receivers in school history. It was only one game.
We played well on defense and did enough on offense (save the turnovers) to win this game---I'm not satisfied with having this game be an indictment on Kelly, or lose confidence in him, or trot out of a bunch of generic statements about the team not being ready.
Sometimes crap doesn't go your way. We'll see how the team responds to the adversity, because they passed the test at the end of last year.
Are you really bothered by Kelly's red-faced explosions on the sidelines?
Thinking that gives a bad image is pretty overstated. It's football, folks.
- Now to the quarterback and offense...
I've been a big Crist supporter, and I hate to kick him to the curb after one half (that really wasn't THAT bad) but it doesn't appear that he's improved much, if at all. We need him to be a playmaker and not someone who makes terrible red zone decisions and goes ice cold.
Crist started 6 for 8 and looked fine, but then completed just one ball on his next seven attempts. This simply cannot keep happening if he's ever to play again.
I think even the pro-Crist guys like me have to accept that he has some form of in-game tunnel vision that doesn't affect him as much in practice, and that he lacks touch and accuracy on his throws. And since we didn't really stretch the field and use his gifted arm, what good is he doing?
Rees definitely played better and this might be his team moving forward.
He threw for almost 300 yards in one half, and he shows way more consistency (70% completions on 34 attempts) than Crist. That he was able to thread a couple balls over the middle and hit Floyd on a medium length touchdown pass only signals that we might be able to win with this kid.
I think we have assumed that with Crist the offense would open up and we'd be able to do more things. But we've never really stretched the field with Crist since day one---so maybe Rees is the better option at this point, right?
Either way the QB position isn't terribly exciting. Rees still threw two picks (yes, one wasn't his fault) and I know for a certain that a team like LSU will eat up an immobile QB who lives off short throws.
Maybe Crist turns out to be a huge bust, but that doesn't necessarily mean Rees will be anything great either.
There are a lot of question marks right now at QB, and that's not a great sign for this offense.
Still, Notre Dame racked up 508 yards of offense and 6.5 yards per play.
6.5 yards per play is the second best mark under Brian Kelly, just like the defense.
Take away the turnovers and we played surprisingly well.
Third down conversions were not good (5 for 14) and the running game was abandoned, but that's a symptom of getting down early.
The offense deserves the most criticism for the loss, but it's not like they were ineffective out there. Remove a couple of the comedy of error turnovers and we might be singing their praises after a 10 point victory.
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QUICK BULLET POINTS:
- Michael Floyd is a machine and nearly unstoppable. It's a shame if he doesn't get adequate quarterbacking in his final season because his talent is so ridiculous and unbelievable at times.
- Cierre Wood swiftly answered all his critics with a great game as well. His final numbers didn't end up too out of this world because Notre Dame stopped running the ball in the second half, but he was well on his way to a 150+ rushing game. Still, he got 100 yards rushing (which no one did last year) and he looks to be a tremendous playmaker for this offense.
- I'm not piling on Riddick, but he has to play better. Much, much, much better. He honestly has nowhere to go but up.
- TJ Jones finished with 6 catches and 58 yards---numbers that any of us would have gladly taken from him, but he made two huge mistakes in this game that cost the team dearly. This offense needs playmakers to step up at receiver and elsewhere. Sometimes the numbers he puts up won't be good enough if they are accompanied with crucial mental errors.
- Do you want to talk about lack of depth at receiver? How about zero catches outside of the starting three guys, for what seems like the 10th time during the Kelly era. We all thought we would trot out receivers galore in this offense and it's just not happening. Kelly must really not like his other options at receiver, that seems coldly evident.
- Eifert went out and did his thing (6 for 93) and played well. Average those numbers out for a full season and he blows Kyle Rudolph's numbers right out of the water.
- I trust Floyd, Wood, and Eifert on this offense. Everyone else is either far too inconsistent or has much more to prove.
- The offensive line played pretty well. We put them in a tough spot having to throw the ball too much in the second half, and Dever was getting abused at times on the right edge, but they offered good enough pass protection for the quarterbacks. What's more, when the offense was more balanced they were opening big enough holes for Wood to run through.
- Anyone else kind of want to play weaker teams to open the season in the future? Even though Navy has our number lately and it's a game off American soil, playing the Middies to start out next year sounds better. So does Temple the following year.
- The defense still is not fast enough on the edges. Maybe it's a product of worrying about a mobile QB like B.J. Daniels, but USF was able to move the ball on the perimeter too much. They ran the ball outside the tackles decently and there were too many yards given up on plays that a faster defense would shut down.
- To add to that, the pass rush was not very good either. There were a couple sacks and a few tackles made in the backfield, but certainly not the increased amount of pressure we thought we'd see. Daniels more or less stayed pretty comfortable in the pocket---although many USF plays were designed for quick throws or to move the QB out of the pocket after the snap.
- However, the defense is really good at stopping the run, especially up the middle. Giving up only 126 yards at 3.0 YPC is really good against a team with a very mobile quarterback. Big bonus points for the defense there.
- Overall, the defense still has some glaring weaknesses that more seasoned teams will exploit. Still not dominant edge rushers (Fleming---not a whole lot from him, seemed to be double teamed a lot), the other linebacker spot opposite Te'o can be a liability, and I still don't think our safeties are that great.
- Many people have noticed that when Rees was leveled late in the game and looked like he was possibly injured, that it was Everett Golson who grabbed his helmet and was ready to go in. Not that we really need to get into the quarterback depth right now, but you wonder if Andrew Hendrix is ever going to get a shot at Notre Dame.
- The freshmen didn't make any huge plays, but held their own. It's a slow process.
- Louis Nix might have been one of the best defenders on the field, for both teams. I wasn't sure how many snaps he took but it seemed like he was playing an awful lot, and making a big impact at times. He's probably the biggest athletic freak on the team.
After a day of digesting the outcome, I still firmly believe that this is a very good team that is going to win 9 or 10 games. The quarterback issue is problematic, but even still I know this offense can move the ball.
I don't think we should be concerned with the mental errors moving forward, if only because the team was very disciplined and mentally strong last year. Although the Irish played an incredibly unfocused game after a summer of Kelly saying they were very focused, it was just one game.
If we see a lot of the same problems next Saturday, then we should start to worry. But I seriously doubt that will happen.
This game totally sucked. It always sucks to lose the opening game.
Now, let's hope the team picks itself up and beats the hell out of Michigan and exorcises some demons.